Writer in Residence

a quick aside on breaks, interpretations, and momentum

By Irfan Ali

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i realized two things after my last post. first, that i was missing video games more than i’d probably like to admit. and second, that after three months of online teaching and attempts at book promo amidst a pandemic, i really needed a break. that break manifested in three straight days of civilization vi: gathering storm, steamrolling the competition as mansa musa, the richest man in history, and pachacuti, the sapa inca of the inca empire. as i warned about in my previous post, i definitely fell prey to the addictive nature of that franchise and slept after the sun came up every one of those days. i only mildly regret that.

the break also coincided with some good news: my recent book accretion was recently reviewed in the summer issue of the malahat review, a rare boon for us poets whose poor choice of art form means we’re always fighting an uphill battle to get eyes on our work. interestingly, the reviewer’s interpretations of the work differed quite drastically from my own. like everyone else, i’d experienced that in reverse more times than i can possibly recall, having my own analysis of a book or movie deviate seriously from the author or director’s vision. but experiencing it for the first time as a creator was definitely strange, humbling, but, surprisingly, not at all unpleasant. it reminded me that the experience of all art is a negotiation and that the idea that of ownership is, in a sense, an illusion.

the review also coincides with a period of renewed energy with my writing. obviously, there’s this writer-in-residency with open book and the review itself. but, just in general, it truly does feel like the background whir and hum of my life has gone up a few decibels in comparison to those sparse and distressingly quiet months earlier in the pandemic. there’s an easy parallel to writing as a whole here: our entire craft is working in sometimes painful solitude for a brief moment of attention and adulation, only to resign ourselves back to our silos again afterwards.

i wanted to end this post making some sort of poignant connection about how that aspect of a writer’s lifestyle makes them especially well-suited for this social moment, something about how moments of transition like this covid-fuelled social upheaval are tests of patience and endurance which gestate meaningful change. but i’m too busy scheming and strategizing how to min-max my mansa musa game in civilization still. that’s taking most of my brain power.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Irfan Ali is a poet, essayist, writer, and educator. His short poetry collection, Who I Think About When I Think About You was shortlisted for the 2015 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. Accretion is his first full-length work. Irfan was born, raised, and still lives in Toronto.